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Maintaining communication in the workplace

Inside Business

Posted: July 9, 2008 1:45 a.m.
Updated: September 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.

There is a tremendous amount of space between the official mission statement and what NASA did leading up what took place in 1969. The gap is a competitive advantage that has stood for the last 39 years.

What was the gap? What made the difference? Why did the NASA put a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth, an act that has yet to be repeated?

At NASA there were four things that took place. While NASA had a large budget, what transpired did not cost any more money.

The first thing that took place was that people within the organization were committed to putting a man on the moon. This simple statement took place of the official mission statement of NASA. People could relate to it, they could visualize it and they were willing to work hard to make it happen. Putting a man on the moon became NASA’s “main thing.”

Starting with Kennedy’s speech to Congress in May 1961 when he asked the nation to set as a goal to achieving the goal “of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” NASA used this as their main thing internally and externally to gain stakeholder commitment.

Second, within the organization, the main thing helped to keep people in alignment as they worked together to achieve the main thing. This was critical because there were numerous setbacks, including the deaths of three astronauts in January 1967.

There were issues, conflicts and all of the other things that take place in every organization. Many of these were detailed in the HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon.” But the main thing kept people moving to the goal.

The third thing that happened was the people in NASA saw progress as the various rockets and space craft were built, tested and used. From the time that Kennedy made his speech until that July date, eight years passed, 19 missions took place with more than 30 men going into space. With each mission, the main thing became closer, more of a reality. Most important, it allowed stakeholders to see progress and become part of a winning team.

Fourth, NASA used the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method of communicating the main thing. The people were passionate about the goal; it was their sole focus every day; and people knew that they were capable of doing better than anyone else (as it the USSR, a rival in space at that time).

The lessons from NASA apply today to those in the business world in these times of uncertainty.

Developing a main thing is not a problem but an opportunity to find a single, simple focus that everyone in the company can rally around. It will also help eliminate the lack of communication problem that exists.

The concept has been around for centuries. In a story that is credited to St. Benedict written in 530 A.D., a traveler came upon a group of three hard-at-work stonemasons, and asked each in turn what he was doing.

The first said, “I am sanding down this block of marble.”

The second said, “I am preparing a foundation.”

The third said, “I am building a cathedral.”

What can you do to feed your best opportunity and starve a serious problem? Develop a main thing for your company.

Kenneth W. Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums in Valencia, bringing business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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